THE LAST CRUSADE by Gerald D. McKnight


Martin Luther King Jr., the FBI, and the Poor People's Campaign
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 A valuable spotlight on the ``dark counterpoint'' to the history of the civil rights strugglesthe government's racist spy and smear campaigns. In the 30 years since the Poor People's Campaign (initiated by Martin Luther King Jr. before his assassination) arrived in Washington, such an ambitious economic rights movement has come to be unthinkable. McKnight (History/Hood Coll.), in this economical account, tells the story of the campaign's brief rise and fall, with special attention to the FBI's extensive surveillance of it (as well as of all civil rights activities). But this isn't just a specialized study of the FBI operations; it functions handily as an account of the movement and of the contemporaneous Washington politics of poverty, precisely because both were so saturated by FBI activity. (For the benefit of law-and-order senator John McClellan, the FBI even spied on the Kerner Commission appointed by President Johnson to study the origins of urban riots.) McKnight clearly traces the evolution of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI spying and smear campaign against black leaders from its variation on the red-baiting theme to the creation of a ``black menace'' in its own right. The book is weakest in attempting to establish the actual contribution of FBI sabotage to the Poor People's Campaign's failure. As McKnight himself explains, congressional and presidential politics and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's own decision to devote its efforts to running a shantytown in Washington doomed the campaign. But regardless of the surveillance's effect on the campaign's success, McKnight reveals it to have been, without much exaggeration, of a scope and intensity to rival the most accomplished police states. Had the campaign not collapsed, it's hard not to imagine, after reading this, that the FBI would have tried its best to do the job itself.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8133-3384-9
Page count: 208pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1998